With the 2022 Winter Olympics fast approaching and NHL players still on track to participate, excitement is growing for American fans.

(Not over Team USA's new sweaters, unless Patrick Kane will be playing rugby in Beijing. But USA Hockey has answered the nagging question of what the men's national team would look like if Mike Ditka designed the jerseys.)

The U.S. team's goaltending depth is stronger than Canada's. The team has forwards like Auston Matthews, which is great, although not "Canada great," considering our friends from the North could have Connor McDavid or Nathan MacKinnon playing on their second line.

But the most fascinating part of the potential Team USA roster is the defense, because the growth of that position in this hockey nation has itself been fascinating.

The country has produced Hall of Fame defensemen like Phil Housley, Brian Leetch, Chris Chelios and Mark Howe. The current crop has the potential to yield a few more.

Here's a look at the state of American defensemen, taking into account recent history and their starts to the season. We've ranked them in tiers according to our own observations and with input from those we informally polled, including Chelios, now an ESPN studio analyst.

 

The elite

Adam Fox, New York Rangers
Charlie McAvoy, Boston Bruins

They're the consensus top two American-born defensemen in the NHL today. Fox, 23, has 107 points in his first 143 NHL games with the Rangers, winning the Norris Trophy last season. McAvoy, 23, is still looking for his awards breakthrough, but with 134 points in 250 games and a 200-foot game, he's the next in the great tradition of outstanding Bruins defensemen.

The main differences between the two: Fox has been an ace on the power play, with 6.38 points per 60 minutes with the man advantage. McAvoy (4.05) is no slouch, and he finally has been given the keys to the Bruins' power play and has excelled (7.87 this season). McAvoy also gets credit for being a stouter defender in his own zone.

"McAvoy has the best overall game. You can put him on the No. 1 power play, the penalty kill, he can play a physical game against physical players and can play the speed game against the faster players," said one NHL veteran. "Fox is a very good player in the offensive zone. He's a heck of a defenseman. But if he's going against a physical player in the corners, he might not come up with that puck as often as McAvoy would."